It’s hard to imagine a worse time to cut defense spending. While new threats emerge around the world, sequestration, mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011, threatens to cut nearly $500 billion from an already slashed defense budget. These impending cuts would have serious repercussions on our military, limiting its readiness and hampering its ability to deploy forces to crucial parts of the world.

With lawmakers unable to find a solution, sequestration is set to take effect on January 2, 2013. At The Heritage Foundation on Thursday, an expert panel convened to discuss the dire effects that sequestration would have on the United States, should the cuts go into affect.

Mackenzie Eaglen of the American Enterprise Institute described a few of sequestration’s more deleterious effects, and noted that some of them were already being felt. Military intelligence is a part of defense spending threatened by the impending budget cuts. With 68,000 troops in Afghanistan, it’s paramount that our troops get the intelligence they deserve.

Defense contractors have started issuing layoffs. Many of their suppliers are single-source suppliers, and, should those suppliers exit the market, military preparedness will be jeopardized. Eaglen also pointed out the U.S. Navy’s plan to reduce the number of ships from 285 to 235 over the next 10 years. She characterized such plans as “projecting weakness to our allies and to our enemies.”

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Peter Brookes, a senior fellow at Heritage, warned that “the United States is unilaterally disarming in an increasingly dangerous world.” In the panel’s estimation, these increasing dangers include Iran. This state sponsor of terrorism continues to pursue its nuclear ambitions, and is probably just one or two years from achieving its goal. Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, and remains in possession of one of the largest (if not the largest) stock of ballistic missiles in the region. Despite 10 years of negotiations, Iran has given no indication of abandoning its nuclear agenda. Brookes equated it to Einstein’s definition of insanity: continuing to do the same thing expecting different results.

Brookes also noted that Syria has entered its 18 month of “revolution,” but there’s still no sign of violence abating anytime soon; and that North Africa is currently the region where Al-Qaeda is most active. It’s essential the United States does not lose its access to these parts of the world.

Responding to the argument that the United States is spending too much on defense, Robert Zarate, policy director at the Foreign Policy Initiative, brought some interesting facts to light. When President Eisenhower coined the phrase, “the military-industrial complex” in 1961, 51 cents of every dollar spent by the federal government was spent on defense, while 37 cents of every dollar spent by the federal government was spent on domestic programs. Today, less than 20 cents of every dollar spent by the federal government is spent on defense, while more than 70 cents of every dollar spent by the federal government is spent on domestic programs.

Zarate mentioned the recent violence in places like Egypt, Yemen, and North Africa, and the implications they might have for the United States going forward.  He also talked about the rise of China and the need for the United States to not lose focus on the East. He called the United States that “indispensible pillar in the international system” and pointed out that “we haven’t seen a great-power war since 1945.”